O213: Time Smiles Uncertainly

This invented landscape has about 10,000 layers of oil and wax on it. The foreground is almost carved out of the many layers underneath. In my recent paintings since I took up the brush again, this thicket of brush at the end of riverbed or marsh kept pushing itself to the fore. I lie awake sometimes at night and wonder what it signifies – everything points.


The final composition, shown above, was a somewhat serendipitous outcome that happened when I re-painted the initial sky I had put down. The first and final versions are shown side-by-side below:

When I painted this, my I kept wondering if this was the sort of landscape that old Hsieh Ling-Yun had wandered around in when we wrote this poem.

Written on the Lake While Returning 
   to Stone Cliff Hermitage
Dawn to dusk, the weather constantly changed,
mountain and lake sometimes vibrant in sunlight,

bright sunlight that made me so happy
I forgot about going home.

Leaving the valley at daybreak,
I didn't disembark until dusk,

forest and gorge clothed in shadows,
sunset clouds melting into evening mist.

There were water chestnuts and lotus,
cattails and rushes growing thickly.

I had to push them aside to pass southward,
happy to be reaching my home in the east.

When the mind stops striving, the world's 
     not a problem.
A constant heart won't waver from the truth.

A few words to nurture the living, to say:
follow this teaching if you want to know the way.

Hsieh Ling-Yun (385-433)
Translated by Sam Hamill, in
The Poetry of Zen, by Hamill and Seaton

Just reflect on that the simplicity, the availability of happiness in the mind that says: “bright sunlight that made me so happy I forgot about going home”.

I should end this post now. I should. But I am thinking of a future me stuck somewhere at an airport, re-reading this post. And I think I would like, sitting there secluded among so many people, to be able to read one of my favorite prose-pieces from the Book of Disquiet again:

And the light strikes things so perfectly and serenely, gilding them with sadly smiling reality! All the world’s mystery descends until I see it take shape as banality and street. Ah, the mysteries grazed by ordinary things in our very midst! To think that right here, on the sunlit surface of our complex human life, Time smiles uncertainly on the lips of Mystery! How modern all this sounds! And yet how ancient, how secret, how full of some other meaning besides the one we see glowing all around us!

Pessoa, Fernando. The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Modern Classics) 


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O212: Constraints of Reasoning

Ernest Becker wrote:

The most important question that man can put to himself is simply this: how conscious is he of what he is doing to earn his feeling of heroism?…to become conscious of of what one is doing to earn his feeling of heroism is the main self-analytic problem of life…human heroics is a blind drivenness than burns people up; in passionate people – a screaming for glory as uncritical and reflexive as the hounding of a dog…man has to feel and believe that what he is doing is truly heroic, timeless, and supremely meaningful.


When I look up at the cold, often starry New Zealand night sky, I wonder where Bieke Vandekerckhove now wanders among the stars. She once wrote:

In lieu of fighting against the dark of not-knowing, we have to let ourselves be vanquished by it. I have discovered the art of waiting in darkness. We have to dare to persevere in what appears at first to be only emptiness. There is a world strewn with innumerable wonders that awaits those who have freed themselves from the constraints of reasoning.

Vandekerckhove, Bieke. The Taste of Silence: How I Came to Be at Home with Myself (Liturgical Press. Kindle Edition.

Before meditation, there is a soft wish, a gentle intent, directed to no one in particular:

Thoughts now slow down and between those last lost ones dark blossoms of emptiness unfold – velvety, open, without bounds. “I” loses its distinctness and dissolves into “This”.  Islands of tension become lonely and yield to the soft compassionate calling to release and let go.

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O210-211: Privilege of Darkness

I have given up on painting so many times before, my wife only smiles and waves when she sees me cleaning out my studio – again. This time it lasted about 6 weeks. It was a good break but the first brushstroke that went down again gave me so much joy, it has lasted several days now. Everything I see turns beautiful…


Pessoa wrote:

I realize that the privileges of darkness are vanishing, and with them the slow rivers under the bowing trees of my glimpsed eyelashes, and the murmur of the cascades lost between the soft flowing of blood in my ears and the faint, steady rain. I’m losing myself to become alive.

Pessoa, Fernando. The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Modern Classics)


A kind yet steady self-confidence, I have learnt, is something that requires imagination of some sort. It has to be seen as a real possibility, then actualized. It is a wish before it is a given:


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#O208-9: Beginning of Wisdom

Fernando Pessoa wrote:

To think of our greatest anxiety as an insignificant event, not only in the life of the universe but also in the life of our own soul, is the beginning of wisdom. To think this way in the midst of our anxiety is the height of wisdom. While we’re actually suffering, our human pain seems infinite. But human pain isn’t infinite, because nothing human is infinite, and our pain has no value beyond its being a pain we feel.

Pessoa, Fernando. The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Modern Classics) 


In the forgiveness of “mine enemies” I have found a healing of the heart beyond what I expected. I have a wish for those toward whom I have held one or more grudges:


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